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'I was a violent person': Former neo-Nazi talks about rise in hate crimes

Updated: Jun. 19, 2018 at 10:15 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Hate crimes across the country and in Ohio are on the rise. The statistics -- reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigations -- has the Jewish Community Center in Cincinnati proactively reacting.

"Whenever we see an increased number of reports it's something we have to pay attention to and it's incumbent upon us as members of different minority communities to come together and combat that threat," said Jewish Federation Council Director Jackie Congedo.

More than 250 people were in attendance at the JCC Tuesday night to hear a former neo-Nazi talk about his journey out of the white supremacy movement. Christian Picciolini was recruited in Chicago, Ill. at the age of 14. He quickly went up the ranks becoming a leader of a skinhead group.

"I'll never forget the feeling I had after I hurt somebody," said Picciolini.

He said he committed acts of violence against a number of people for most of his teen years.

"I was a violent person," he said.

He said he was an easy recruit, a self-loathing, misguided youth. Picciolini says it's easy for bullied kids to grow up and become bullies. He hopes by sharing his story he can stop the cycle.

"I've spent the better part of 20 years trying to help people disengage from those same hate groups I help build," he said.

In Ohio in 2014, 403 hate crimes were reported, according to the FBI. In 2015, there were 416 and in 2016, 442. Statistics for 2017 and 2018 are not yet available.

FOX19's Maytal Levi asked Picciolini about what he'd say to someone who doesn't believe there is hate or racism in the U.S. today.

"I would say they live in a bubble where they are not impacted," he said. "Because it's an epidemic across the country. Hate doesn't have to be a shaved head and wear boots or even sport a swastika. It is now wearing a suit or running for political office because fear rhetoric has become normalized."

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